Bryan Strickland Senior Writer
INDIANAPOLIS, IN Feb. 27, 2013 – The NFL Scouting Combine has reached the finish line, but the information gathered over the last week in Indianapolis will live on right up to the NFL Draft in two months.
Teams already had their draft boards set up before the combine began. The combine, to be followed by pro days and player visits to team facilities, will serve to tweak those boards.
“This is just another piece of the puzzle. You can get carried away here,” Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said at the combine. “You have to remember that players are not in full pads and have six weeks to prep for this. This is their job interview, but it’s not always the most realistic picture.”
It’s difficult for those outside of NFL personnel departments to paint a reliable picture of how the first round of the draft will go, but based on what we know after the combine, the Panthers could go in any number of directions with the 14th pick.
Here’s a look at five intriguing prospects that could unexpectedly be available when the time comes for the Panthers to turn in their first pick on April 25. What would you do if these potential game-changers are still on the board?
STAR LOTULEILEI, Utah defensive tackle
Entering the combine, it looked like Lotuleilei would be long gone by the time the Panthers selected, possibly going in the top five. Now, there’s more uncertainty surrounding his status than perhaps any other player after doctors believe they discovered a heart condition during his medical exams at the combine.
“It’s going to be real interesting because we haven’t seen our doctors’ reports, and I know they’re going for a second opinion,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said on “NFL AM” on Tuesday. “I think everybody is going to take all of those things into consideration. Once we get to draft time, all those questions will be answered.”
If Lotuleilei is medically cleared, much like Panthers defensive end Frank Alexander was following a similar situation at last year’s combine, he’ll likely be gone before the Panthers pick, though it still could scare off some teams. If the heart condition is a concern and he drops to 14, the Panthers will have to weigh the risk versus the reward of taking the potentially dominant player.
CORDARELLE PATTERSON, Tennessee wide receiver
Most evaluators regard Patterson as the top wide receiver in the draft, but what would the Panthers think about taking one that early, especially one as inexperienced as Patterson?
The Rock Hill, S.C., native impressed at the combine. He’s only played one year of major college football, but essentially the same thing could have been said about quarterback Cam Newton two years ago.
The Panthers have drafted a wide receiver in the first round just once in their history, and that was back in 1997. Then again, they’ve never drafted a defensive tackle in the first round (see above), nor a guard or a safety (see below) for that matter.
CHANCE WARMACK, Alabama guard
A guard hasn’t been selected in the top five since 1985, but Warmack could break that streak.
Or, with tackles Luke Joeckel from Texas A&M and Eric Fisher from Central Michigan virtually penciled in as top-10 picks and fellow tackle Lane Johnson from Oklahoma shooting up mock drafts, there’s a chance Warmack could still be there at No. 14.
“It’s widely known that guards aren’t drafted that high,” Warmack said. “But I’m not thinking about that right now.”
Warmack didn’t participate in most of the measured elements at the combine and didn’t blow away the field when he did participate, but his physical nature and college credentials make him a player to watch early in the draft.
KENNY VACCARO, Texas safety
Safety is another position that traditionally doesn’t get much attention early in the NFL Draft, with just 10 safeties being selected in the first round of the last seven drafts. From the Panthers’ perspective, that only serves to increase the chances that they could have the pick of the litter at No. 14.
Vaccaro didn’t light it up at the combine, but he lit up many a receiver as a Longhorn. He’s a physical player the Panthers would have to consider as they search for a winning formula along their last line of defense.
BJOERN WERNER, Florida State defensive end
Every year, it seems like there’s one player at the draft who sits in the green room, waiting much longer than expected to hear his name called.
What would the Panthers do if Werner was that guy?
Some mock drafts have him going as high as No. 2, but it’s also possible that he could be passed over by several teams. The Panthers already have ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, both coming off a double-digit sack season, so it’s not a major need area, but Gettleman has talked about the string of defensive ends the Giants drafted in his time there.
“With the Giants, people thought we were crazy for drafting (so many) defensive ends,” Gettleman said. “But if that’s the best player available, you take him.”
If the Panthers follow through with their plan to take the best available player regardless of position and Werner is still there at No. 14, they could face a very interesting decision.